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So I went to New York to this Sunday and things got really weird really fast.

Wait, don’t go! You didn’t accidentally stumble onto Porno Prospectus. It’s me, your favorite fantasy baseball expert, who participated in his seventh National League Tout Wars auction on Sunday. In 2015, the sixth time was the charm, as I managed to take home the title, beating three-time Tout Wars champion Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN. But this isn’t about what happened last year. I happily accepted the congratulations and handshakes of my competitors and then it was down to business.

The 12-team, NL-only, 5×5 (with OBP instead of batting average) auction started at 10 am on Sunday. And I waited… and waited. And waited. I was the last person to buy a player, and I didn’t exactly throw my weight around by purchasing Aaron Nola for $9. This innocuous purchase set the tone for the day. While I pressed and had the penultimate bid on quite a few players, I didn’t purchase a player for more than $18. I have had balanced auctions like this before, but usually in the CBS expert leagues, where historically there has been far less price discipline than there is in LABR and Tout Wars. On Sunday, I expected that I was going to walk away with a Stars and Scrubs team. My bid limits were aggressive compared to the winning bids at LABR earlier this month, and there was some overlap between the experts in the two leagues. I thought I’d get Paul Goldschmidt and someone like Andrew McCutchen for a combined $80 and then have to fill out the back end of the roster with $1 spec plays. Instead, I wound up with something completely different.

Table 1: Mike Gianella’s NL-only 2016 Tout Wars Team

Pos

Player

Price

My Bid Limit

2015 $

C

Jonathan Lucroy

17

18

$9

C

Yasmani Grandal

15

17

$14

1B

Derek Norris

12

14

$12

2B

Brandon Phillips

13

15

$22

SS

Jean Segura

13

15

$12

3B

Matt Duffy

15

17

$20

CO

Adonis Garcia

7

9

$5

MI

Asdrubal Cabrera

9

12

$15

OF

Ben Paulsen

13

15

$10

OF

Yasmany Tomas

11

13

$9

OF

Angel Pagan

9

10

$9

OF

Jon Jay

7

7

$2

UT

Miguel Montero

11

13

$13

SW

Jose Reyes

7

13

$18

P

Adam Wainwright

18

20

$4

P

Jeurys Familia

17

21

$25

P

Mark Melancon

17

21

$23

P

Steven Matz

12

14

$5

P

Shelby Miller

11

14

$13

P

Santiago Casilla

9

13

$16

P

Aaron Nola

9

11

$7

P

Jerad Eickhoff

5

7

$7

P

Taylor Jungmann

1

4

$8

Total

258

313

$278

I have purchased balanced rosters many times in my fantasy baseball playing career (typing that sentence made me extremely sad), but I have never purchased a team without at least one $20-plus player. Typically, when spending is high early and I sit back and wait I get one or two players over $20 and then spread the wealth and at the bottom. For comparison’s sake, this is what the CBS NL-only team that I purchased in late February looks like:

Table 2: Mike Gianella’s NL-only CBS team

Pos

Player

Price

My Bid Limit

2015 $

C

Nick Hundley

10

13

$15

C

Miguel Montero

8

12

$10

1B

Brandon Moss

9

11

$9

2B

Kolten Wong

17

19

$18

SS

Jean Segura

16

17

$17

3B

Matt Carpenter

24

26

$25

CO

David Wright

12

14

$6

MI

D.J. LeMahieu

15

18

$26

OF

Yoenis Cespedes

26

28

$33

OF

Ben Revere

20

22

$28

OF

Domingo Santana

12

14

$6

OF

Jay Bruce

10

17

$17

UT

Jayson Werth

8

11

$7

SW

Jose Reyes

12

14

$21

P

Jaime Garcia

12

13

$17

P

Shelby Miller

12

14

$13

P

Kyle Hendricks

11

12

$12

P

Aaron Nola

11

11

$7

P

Fernando Rodney

8

9

$8

P

Jon Niese

4

4

$3

P

Matt Cain

1

1

-$3

P

Tom Koehler

1

1

$6

P

Ryan Vogelsong

1

1

$1

Total

260

302

$302

In that auction, I did not buy a player until Carpenter, who was the 35th player called out. Then I bought Cespedes two players later, and really jumped into fray with Wong, who was the 54th player nominated. But this article is not meant to be a comparison between two expert leagues. The CBS table illustrates that even within the context of a value auction, what I did in Tout Wars on Sunday was extreme, even for me.

Predictably, reactions to the team I bought were middling at best, negative at worst. Some of this stems from the way many approach auctions and roster construction, and some of the prevalent thought in the industry about what your team “should” look like after an auction. Below are a few comments I saw about my auction, along with my responses.

You “should” buy a top-tier player at the beginning of your auction. This is especially true in the NL, as the talent falls off quickly.
This is one of the most common myths about building a team. This derives from a combination of fantasy players who only play in draft formats and fantasy players who play in shallower mixed leagues.

In only-league formats, the talent dries up far more quickly at the bottom of the player pool. This makes it seem like there is an imperative to pay $35 or more for one or even two players, as the low end of the player pool is weak. This seems especially true in NL-only this year, with as many as six NL teams in rebuilding mode with little if any chance at making the playoffs this year.

When it comes to fantasy baseball, the impact these types of paradigm shifts can have are frequently overstated. While I did push my bid limits on the top talent higher than I ever have in Tout Wars, I found that the other experts were even more aggressive on the top hitters and pitchers, shutting me out entirely.

This does not mean that I purchased a bad team. As you can see in Table 1, I project my team to have $313 worth of value, or an average of a $2.30 profit per player. While I do realize that things can and will go wrong, I also believe that every player I purchased could earn my listed bid limit or more.

My goal in any auction is to maximize the amount of value that I can add to my team. I would prefer to have an anchor like Paul Goldschmidt or Bryce Harper at the top of my offense, but if the values on these types of players are prohibitive, I am willing to go in a different direction.

Why did you buy four catchers? Was this your plan?
In the first half of the auction, I stocked up on pitching early. After Nola, I purchased Familia, Melancon, Wainwright, Lucroy, and Matz. I had now spent $17 on hitting and $73 on pitching, with a whopping 13 hitting slots left to fill. With the lack of hitting available but with a lot of catchers still on the board, I suspected I might wind up with at least three catchers. It also helped knowing that one of my competitors wasn’t going to spend more than $1 on a catcher (he had told me this before the auction).

Tout Wars has a unique rule where they use a “swingman” position that allows you to put any hitter or pitcher (it replaces an outfield slot) at this slot. Because of this rules wrinkle, I was not afraid to buy Lucroy, Grandal, Norris, and Montero. All four are starters. While they won’t play quite as much as everyday players at other positions, for the prices I paid they do not need to do so.

Norris slots in at first base (Tout Wars has a 15-game requirement for position eligibility, not 20 like some leagues). While this may seem like a bad idea, Norris has a better chance of producing stats than more than a few players purchased at the position at comparable or higher prices.

Another benefit of this strategy is “drowning the pool” at a position. By purchasing four catchers, I made it harder for my opponents to fill out valuable slots on their rosters with productive players. The hit I might take by having Norris at first base getting 80 to 85 percent of the at bats of an everyday first baseman will more than be made up for against opponents pushing a $1 scrub out there getting 150 plate appearances.

Three closers for $43? I get that you’ll probably win saves, but wouldn’t you have been better off pushing this money elsewhere?
I would have preferred to buy a higher-quality starting pitcher or a more-reliable outfielder instead of Casilla at $9. But while the early pitching prices were relatively cheap, the starting-pitching prices after the break jumped and the outfield prices were high all day long. Rather than reach for a starting pitcher or an outfielder I didn’t like, I took Casilla and finished the auction with three closers.

Relievers are an underrated asset where their rate stats are concerned, so I am hoping that the combination of Familia, Melancon, and Casilla bolsters my ERA and WHIP. But there is another reason why I purchased four catchers and three closers, and it has more to do with the way Tout Wars plays than it does with any kind of roster philosophy.

In an NFBC league, I would have gone out of my way to pursue a balanced roster. Most or all NFBC leagues do not permit trades (I do not play in NFBC contests, thus the qualifier), and there is no guarantee that free agency alone will make up for an imbalanced team. Tout Wars does not have similar restrictions. There is historical precedent for what I did on Sunday. In 2012, Todd Zola of Mastersball purchased four catchers, and was able to swap two of them before Opening Day. While I might not be able to do this, the opportunity to revamp my team quickly does exist.

I have had more success building teams with categorical excesses and then trading that excess for needs later in the season than with leaving the auction with a balanced roster. If all three closers stick, I am likely to trade one or two of them to fill any categorical or positional needs later.

Ninety-nine dollars is too much to spend on a pitching staff.
I agree. My preference would have been to spend $80 or so on my entire pitching staff.

When it became obvious that I wasn’t going to get an elite hitter, I knew an adjustment would have to come somewhere so it came on how I split my money between hitting and pitching. Given how much I spent for pitching in the early going, I was actually pleased that it was “only” $99 and that I didn’t stray too far off course.

But aren’t you worried your offense isn’t going to be competitive?
In 2015, I purchased a 50-point offense coming out of the auction, out of a possible 60 points. I do not expect this kind of success again in 2016, but a balanced offense with 14 regular players could accrue 35-40 points on offense across the board. Runs and RBI should be strong, and I should be able to do enough in home runs and steals to finish somewhere in the middle in both categories.

This team is boring. I don’t see any upside.
There is some upside. It isn’t the kind of upside people typically talk about, but it does exist in players like Paulsen and Garcia, who didn’t play a full season in 2015, and players like Jay and Pagan, who simply have to bounce back to their 2014 levels to turn a profit. This doesn’t mean that they will, but the possibility exists. Reyes isn’t the kind of risk that anyone likes to take, but he was the third-best NL-only shortstop last year (combining his AL- and NL-only stats). The risk is considerable, but the upside is significant.

Your outfield stinks.
Paulsen, Tomas, Pagan, and Jay were not the players I was hoping to get in my outfield coming out of the auction. Although I didn’t go over my bids on any of these players, I would have preferred to walk away with more than $45 of projected value in my outfield.

However, given the composition of the rest of my team, I am fine rolling with this quartet. Something I noticed late in the auction was that I had a player in Paulsen who is eligible at first base and outfield. Grabbing Tomas gave me two players who I am starting the season with in the outfield but will likely move to my infield at some point during the season. There are some extremely weak infields in NL Tout this year, and having two players I can either trade to an opponent or slot in at first or third if I trade another infielder increases my flexibility to make deals. Outfield has traditionally seen more robust free agent targets emerge via the free-agent pool. This was not the case in 2015 but it remains to be seen if this was a one-year anomaly or the start of a new trend.

Even if I concede that you have a decent amount of value on your team, isn’t it better to buy a $30 player and hope to get bargains at two or three slots at the end of your auction?
Some fantasy players do specifically take this approach in only leagues. The idea of having two or three slots at the bottom reserved for $1-3 players certainly isn’t new. I have seen it work well for fantasy owners in the past. It worked for me in Tout Wars in 2015, when Yangervis Solarte, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Freddy Galvis cost me a combined $5 and earned $34.

While this did work extremely well, there is no guarantee it will work every year. There is a reason the players at the end of an auction cost $1-3, and it is usually because they are bad. The odds of getting a double-digit earner for one dollar are no better or worse than getting one from the free agent pool. Furthermore, in a year with so many bad NL teams, the talent at the back end of the auction and in the free agent pool is even weaker than usual.

There is another reason why this approach isn’t necessarily foolproof. In a home league, you might be able to find a $1-2 buy who has the potential to earn $10-12. In a tough expert league like Tout Wars, there isn’t a soft underbelly of bottom feeders who will allow you to get these types of bargains easily. You might be able to slip one player through, but generally speaking this is the exception and not the rule.

Do you like your team?
You can’t write a fantasy article without answering this obligatory question in the affirmative. Truth be told, in many ways I don’t like my team. It is aesthetically unpleasing. Last year in Tout Wars, I had Clayton Kershaw and Goldschmidt. Win or lose, the prospect of watching those two and rooting for them was exciting. This team is extremely boring.

However, I do like my team from the standpoint that I stuck to my valuation principles and bought 23 players who have the potential to put up $300 or more of statistics. It may not happen, but then this is true for any of the other 11 teams in the league, regardless of how they put together their teams. For me, the “right” way to put together a team has always centered around valuation. I won with this approach in 2015. Abandoning this approach in 2016 because I didn’t like how my roster was shaking out would have been betraying a style of play that led me to success in Tout Wars in 2015 as well as many other leagues throughout the years.

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Matt10
3/23
Any chance that you release your bid limits for this league? Got a same format auction and would be good as a benchmark.
MikeGianella
3/23
I'll post a link later this week as part of the bid limit update
carltondavis
3/23
Good explanations. Would Montero and Norris have a different bid value if they were only 1b eligible? If so, just curious what that would be? "There is a reason the players at the end of an auction cost $1-3, and it is usually because they are bad. The odds of getting a double-digit earner for one dollar are no better or worse than getting one from the free agent pool." That's why the 30-2-1 distribution is theoretically better than the 13-11-9 distribution, correct? Just cycle the $2 and $1 players, and if you find one worth $10 you come out ahead. It is theoretically much harder to find a $20 player on the waiver wire than a $10 player and much harder to pull the plug on your projected $11 outfielder than on your $2 outfielder in search of the upgrade. I know you mention it is harder to get a steal in the expert auction on the $2 and $1 guy you initially buy but that should be reflected in their bid price anyway, right?
MikeGianella
3/23
Hi Carlton: The answers to your questions all sort of tie together, but I will try to answer them individually. 1) As 1B eligible players, Montero and Norris would be worth a little less...probably $1-2 But not that much less. The flattening of value due to position scarcity matters more with players at the top (like Buster Posey and Kyle Schwarber) than it does for players in Norris and Montero's range. Additionally, the swingman rule in Tout pushes them back up a little bit. (run the PFM with five outfielders and one UT versus four OF and two UT and you will see what I mean). 2) The shallower the league, the better the 30-2-1 distribution is in theory. In a 12-team mixed where your replacement level hitter is someone like C.J. Cron or Trevor Plouffe, counting your pennies so you can get a $1-2 bargain on Daniel Murphy is silly. Go for 2-3 big guys at the top and don't sweat your endgame. In an NL-only, though, the replacement level player is terrible. A grand total of 11 hitters who weren't purchased at auction in NL Tout last year returned $10 of value or more. For pitchers it was even worse; just six pitchers earned $10 or more. 3) This is a complicated question that is worthy of a column. But, yes, a loss is built into the prices for the top hitters. The top 10 hitters in NL OBP earned $26 on average and cost $33. My bids in Tout reflect the typical cost, not the typical earnings at the top. But when the market decided to go past the typical earnings, I felt that it was ignoring the risk while solely focusing on the reward. There comes a point where you have to walk away from the higher level guys in an only format.
LynchMob
3/23
Is there a place to see the order players were auctioned off? Who were you choices when you picked up Jungmann? I like your team ... a lot! Well done ...
MikeGianella
3/23
Check out the Tout Wars website. There is a chat for each of the auction leagues. The NL chat was pretty faithful to the order, but there are a handful of gaps. I'd have to go back and look, but I was looking at Jungmann, Tony Watson, Tanner Roark, and Zack Wheeler there (I think).
lemurine
3/31
Just want to say I like your writing style and humor, Mike.
MikeGianella
9/28
I missed this in March, but thanks!